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The Power of Facebook’s “opt-in/opt-out” and the Value of Information

by Andrew White  |  September 22, 2015  |  Comments Off on The Power of Facebook’s “opt-in/opt-out” and the Value of Information

The Business and Technology section of the US print edition of the Wall Street Journal carried an article today called, “Facebook Restricts Access to Its Data Trove“.  The article reports the ongoing ripples through the tech industry after Facebook changes rules concerning how it shares data locked up in its massive stores.  As Facebook’s membership grew, the insight one could glean from its social graph started to become thought provoking, even money making.  In fact it became large enough that entrepreneurs could build a business on mining the graph for new opportunities.

As time went by however a growing number of Facebook users and privacy advocates called out the exposure of individuals’ desire to not be pestered.  These users said that they did not want to be subject to unwanted offers, intrusions and otherwise communications from those that might discover a relationship between themselves and some other product, service or insight. Facebook changed policy last year and that policy came in to force in May of this year.  The number of firms and apps that used to mine the data treasure trove is now suffering the impact of the change in policy.  The result is that some firms are going under.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  But it does highlight the trade-off between unfettered access to data that can yield interesting and possible valuable insight, and the right of the individual and their desire for anonymity.  

So the real battle will shift to the opt-in/opt-out dialog.  Some specific social networks have an implied “opt-in” rules.  If you think about Ashley Madison (in the news recently for being subject to a hack), the very principle is that one joins that network with a view to finding others sharing a similar intent of connecting.  Facebook is not the same kind of network – it is more of a search-based “opt-on” network.  I spend time on Facebook looking for old friends; if I find a suspect, I invite them to connect. They may still decline, but if they don’t and they “opt-in”, a new network is established.  This is therefore a search based “opt-on” network; there is no automatic “opt-in” for all forms of social interaction and discovery.  So now we have a challenge: some networks that exist in Facebook might actually want to “opt-in” for certain forms of search, or even unpredictable discovery of relationships. There clearly is a continuum here for how much we want to “opt-in” and for what.  Who would want to opt-in automatically to a potentially new app, yet to be invented, that predicts I might be interested in abortion?

So managing myriad ways to opt-in, opt-out, and opt-on, is the real debate needing some technology-based solution.  In fact, I would guess that there is a market for apps designed to manage the option settings for users by information channel – of which Facebook is but one (very large) channel.  But there are micro-networks (and so micro-channels) even within Facebook; and other channels outside of Facebook such as those represented by other social and shopping habits.  Perhaps there is a need for a digital standard so that information channels can open up their business rules to a global setting.  If we could get good at managing the opt-options, we might yet free up more innovation from our growing data troves without harming privacy.

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Category: data-mining  facebook-vendors  information-innovation  information-trust  information-value  opt-inopt-out  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a Distinguished Analyst and VP. His roles include Chief of Research and Content Lead for Data and Analytics. His main research focus is data and analytics strategy, platforms, and governance. Read Full Bio

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